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SALVATION VERSUS CHURCH DENOMINATIONS

 

Will Being A Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Etc., Get You To Heaven?

 

The short answer is fuhgeddaboudit! No “brand” of church or group of churches has the market cornered on the Gospel message and God’s salvation—even though some are convinced their doctrinal slant is the exclusive key to the Pearly Gates. (Roman Catholicism quickly comes to mind as an example of that erroneous belief, along with certain elements within the denominational “Church of Christ” and a few other sects).

 

But why did all the various denominations come into being? Can not God’s people “just get along,” a la Rodney King’s now famous query? Obviously that is not the case, because interpretational disagreements about the Bible continue to fracture the Body of Christ like the windshield of a car hit by a large rock. That which in the past consisted of only a few major denominations has now exploded into hundreds of factional entities with their own views as to what the Bible actually teaches—and the list just keeps on getting longer!

 

Therefore, people studying the same Bible and arriving at such widely divergent conclusions is a subject that needs to be explored. And I am convinced that while there are many contributing factors involved, two of them are biggies.

 

First and foremost, there is the undeniable scriptural fact that those who are unregenerate (have never been born again) cannot understand the Word of God.

 

“But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them [of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them] because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated” 1 Cor.2:14 (Amplified Bible).

 

So as more tares infiltrate churches and outnumber the wheat, the greater the apostasy will grow—because such people are incapable of spiritual discernment. And their mishandling and misinterpretation of the Bible should be no great mystery to genuine believers.

 

“... There are some things in those [epistles of Paul] that are difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist and misconstrue to their own utter destruction, just as [they distort and misinterpret] the rest of the Scriptures” 2 Peter 3:16(b) (Amplified Bible).

 

The second factor involves language. And to graphically demonstrate that principle, consider the now infamous statement by former President Bill Clinton: “It all depends upon what the meaning of ‘is’ is!” As a lawyer, he resorted to parsing sentence structure in an effort to keep from being charged with perjury. The terse dictionary definition of the seemingly simple word “is” says, 3rd person sing. Present tense of BE. And in the hands of an “artful dodger” like Clinton, the precise meaning depends upon its relationship to time. In other words, when he was asked the question about Ms. Lewinski, it was phrased as, “Is your relationship with her sexual in nature?” His subsequent answer of “No” was, according to later testimony, based upon the premise that the relationship had ended—was in the past—and therefore something “is,” present tense, did not accurately reflect. Of course he knew perfectly well the intent of the question as it was posed to him, but he used a technicality of language to avoid telling the truth.

 

However, people can, and do, read identical words and then with all honesty and sincerity arrive at widely differing conclusions as to their meaning. I call this the “Mary had a little lamb” syndrome. Of course most English speaking peoples familiar with the old nursery rhyme understand that Mary had a pet lamb. But there exists the idiomatic alternatives of her giving birth to it, or even taking unfair advantage of it!  We often hear someone say, “She had a baby” or use the slang expression “I’ve been had” when someone has cheated or deceived them. Right? What about “Mary had a little lamb for dinner?” Did she invite the lamb over for a meal, or was the lamb itself the meal? So even if one were to introduce such seemingly innocuous words into evidence before a jury of linguistic experts—without the benefit of them being put into a framework of legal terminology expressly designed to avoid any chance of being misinterpreted—a hung jury could easily be the result! With their knowledge of the possibility of alternative meanings, to reach a unanimous agreement as to that which was originally intended—beyond a shadow of a doubt—would be difficult at best. And the same is often true of poems because people read them and then disagree completely about what the poet was trying to say.

 

So have you ever wondered, as I have, why God did not see fit to give us His Word in a way that its message could not be misconstrued? The only answer I have been able to come up with is that it was not necessary! Those who are born again and indwelled by the Holy Spirit will be led of the Spirit in their understanding.

 

“But as for you, the anointing (the sacred appointment, the unction) which you received from Him abides [permanently] in you; [so] then you have no need that anyone should instruct you. But just as His anointing teaches you concerning everything and is true and is no falsehood, so you must abide in (live in, never depart from) Him [being rooted in Him, knit to Him], just as [His anointing] has taught you [to do]” 1 John 2:27 (Amplified Bible).

 

Then we see that principle expanded in the following exhortation to believers:

 

“Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth” 2 Timothy 2:15 (Amplified Bible).

 

Do children need a Ph.D. before they are capable of believing the truth about salvation?

 

“Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” Mark 10:15 (KJV)

 

“But He said, Leave the children alone! Allow the little ones to come to Me, and do not forbid or restrain or hinder them, for of such [as these] is the kingdom of heaven composed” Matthew 19:14 (Amplified Bible).

 

The Gospel message is so simple that a child is capable of believing it and receiving Jesus Christ as their Savior. But in the process of growing up, most adults become so sophisticated that they find it necessary to entangle themselves in a morass of emotional and conflicting ideas about what simple words really mean. Thus, when one approaches a text with a biased point of view, interpretation is usually manipulated to fit a preconceived opinion. And that principle is what Bible teachers call “eisegesis”—the primary cause of denominationalism. Whereas by comparison, “exegesis” is the proper critical interpretation of a text in which all passages relating to the subject are compared before a conclusion is reached as to its meaning.

 

Another factor at work in denominationalism is human flesh, with all its inherent weaknesses. Man’s fallen nature insists that one must “do something” to merit salvation and, to varying degrees, several denominations reflect that concept. However, numerous New Testament passages clearly state that good deeds are unacceptable to God as a means of obtaining His salvation (see Eph.2:8-9 and Titus 3:5). Yet the second chapter of the Book of James appears to contradict that teaching. So how can such seemingly divergent views be resolved? The only way is to follow the principle that the Bible will never contradict itself when all it says on a subject is considered. Therefore, the doctrine set forth by the Apostle Paul is that works do not save. Whereas the common sense viewpoint of James (some have referred to his epistle as the “Proverbs of the New Testament”) is that a soul that is truly saved will exhibit works—thereby justifying the individual in the eyes of others. 

 

Genuine believers are scattered throughout the denominations and for that reason we must avoid the mistake of trying to paint everyone with the same brush. Disagreement over matters of interpretation is never grounds for deeming a person to be lost. The reality of salvation is determined solely by whether or not the Holy Spirit is present within them—not the opinion of others. Because if I had to form an opinion about Abraham’s nephew Lot based entirely upon what the Old Testament narrative tells us about him, I would be dead wrong, because the Apostle Peter tells us in 2 Pet.2:7 that he was a “just” (righteous) man! And that fact should be a valuable lesson for all of us.

 

Though some may consider me to be a candidate for the funny farm, I strongly suspect that language is the major weapon Satan uses today to divide believers and delude many others. Because as I tried to point out in an earlier article entitled, “Is Possession Of A Bible Necessary For Salvation?” (http://www.cuttingedge.org/articles/p207.htm), untold millions came to a saving knowledge of Christ prior to the advent of the printing press. Up to that time, the only Bibles most people had ever seen were chained to pulpits in Roman Catholic cathedrals and reading them was restricted to priests. The Gospel message was passed on to others by word of mouth and authenticated by the lives of those who did the witnessing. Whereas now the written Word of God is so available (at least in the western world) that, in my opinion, it is in danger of being devalued through excess. And never before in the history of the Church have there been so many conflicting opinions about what it really says.

 

While I am in no way qualified to state that the Bible languages of Hebrew and Koine Greek—as originally spoken and understood—are superior to English, I strongly believe that is the case. And the main reason I take that view is because of the sheer number of words in the original languages that are translated by single words in English. For instance, consider the word “cut” (one that I just chose at random). As it turns out, according to Strong’s Concordance, there are at least 35-40 different Hebrew words and 7 Greek words that the KJV translates as “cut.” So does it seem likely to you that one simple English word can completely do justice to them all? Frankly, I do not and am of the opinion that it is highly likely that there are nuances and shades of meaning in the original that are missing in all word-for-word translations. And, as an illustration of this probability, I refer to the widely reported claim that Eskimos have an almost unlimited number of words for “snow”—even though some writers have disagreed with that assessment. But the following excerpt I found on the Internet (along with similar statements by others) appears to indicate that the claim is factual:

 

“When Geoff Pullum's book, The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax, came out, I started getting quite a number of inquiries from journalists about "words for 'snow' in Eskimo." That motivated me to prepare the appended item. Please feel free to pass it around.

 

Counting Eskimo words for snow: A citizen's guide
Lexemes referring to snow and snow-related notions in Steven A. Jacobson's (1984) Yup'ik Eskimo dictionary[1]

Anthony C. Woodbury
University of Texas at Austin
July 1991

This is a list of lexemes referring to snow and related notions in one Eskimo language, Central Alaskan Yupik (or just Yup'ik Eskimo). It is spoken by about 13,000 people in the coast and river areas of Southwestern Alaska from Norton Sound to Bristol Bay. It is one of five Eskimo languages. (Of these five, probably the best-known is Inuit, spoken in a series of well-differentiated dialects ranging from Northern Alaska, all across the Canadian far north, and up to the coast of Greenland. While the term Inuit is preferred to Eskimo by many in Canada, the term is retained here because (a) it properly refers to any Eskimo group, not only the Inuit; and (b) its use is widespread in Native communities in Alaska.)

This is a list of lexemes rather than of words. Roughly, a lexeme can be thought of as an independent vocabulary item or dictionary entry. It's different from a word since a lexeme can give rise to more than one distinctly inflected word. Thus English has a single lexeme _speak_ which gives rise to inflected forms like _speaks_, _spoke_, and _spoken_. It's especially important to count lexemes rather than words when talking about Eskimo languages. That's because they are inflectionally so complicated that each single noun lexeme may have about 280 distinct inflected forms, while each verb lexeme may have over 1000! Obviously, that would put the number of snow words through the roof very quickly…” (Emphasis mine).

Since snow is such an important facet of their lives, it seems entirely reasonable to me that they would use many inflectional nuances to describe its relative type and condition precisely to other Eskimos. But just imagine how much fun it would be to attempt to translate them into another language! So even though a reasonably acceptable attempt is made, the fact remains that the new language will not fully convey all that was inherent in the original. And that principle is also true of English Bibles (and doubtless those of all other languages as well)—the sole exception of which I am aware being the Amplified Bible, because it does not stick to a word-for-word format and tries to add as much nuance and shades of meaning inherent to the original languages as is practical. That is the reason I cite from it so often.

But even if there were only one English translation in existence, the problems of interpretation and denominations would still exist because our language is flexible. And those who are determined to march to the beat of their own drum will continue to find whatever doctrinal “garment” they need to fit them.  

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